The Heir Affair, sequel to 2015’s acknowledged Will and Kate fanfiction The Royal We, is shockingly raw and somber.
People Magazine called one of my most depressing reads in a long time “fun and dishy.” Entertainment Weekly called it a “fun, frothy imagining” and “a breezy, juicy novel that’s like The Princess Diaries with fewer made-up countries and more sex.”
Most Goodread reviews of The Royal We hit the same beats: fun, funny, upbeat, a little silly, romantic, self-indulgent, and above all, CUTE. Pure escapism. The book’s fault, perhaps, is too much frivolous, unrealistic fantasy. The most prominent negative reviews (including by the fabulous Emily May) mostly slam it for being boring.
Based on this response, the last thing I expected was to find this book TOO real. Too grounded in deep, honest emotion. Too depressingly pragmatic.
Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan certainly have the knowledge to make this book as real as possible. The real-life royals are a mainstay on Go Fug Yourself, their delicious yet compassionate celebrity fashion blog.
You can definitely see the influence. We get a few fun details of the absurd new demands of Bex’s life–armpit botox, and weighted skirts–but that’s all. The book spends little time on silly palace-exploring or honeymoon-planning. Instead, we get a slow-moving, intimate portrait of isolation.
The book starts as a fun (if a little bland) girl-meets-prince. Studying abroad at Oxford for a semester, American Bex Porter meets Nick, future King.
This is where things really sour. All Bex’s support networks disappear. Sometimes The Firm cuts off a relationship, sometimes Bex and her friends are dumb or selfish, and sometimes stuff just happens thats out of anyone’s control.
The end result is that Bex has just been thrust into a new, terrifying life, with almost no support. She is eviscerated by the press and disdained by many of the royals. Her new position is poison to her friendships. Even her husband-to-be, who is dealing with his own problems, isn’t really there for her at all.
We get to know three characters (Bex, her prince, and said prince’s little brother) who feel they don’t have anyone to talk to–not even one another. They fall into self-destructive choices, selfishness and self-pity, and deep depression.
And then… that’s about it. While threads of plot are mostly resolved, this emotional story never gets a real conclusion. Bex simply drifts into the end of the book, trapped in toxic relationships and unable to see what really went wrong.
I turned immediately to the sequel, released earlier this month, hoping it would recapture some of the magic the first third of The Royal We hinted at. But The Heir Affair only doubled down on the gut-wrenching misery of the first. Things only get worse–and why wouldn’t they, when
I spent the book begging these characters to get couple’s counseling. What is therapy for, if not this? But none of the characters seemed willing to do anything about their broken relationships. Our main characters, Bex and Nick, simply drifted through the book, letting events happen to them. Passive and helpless, Bex is more of a Snow White than the spunky, modern princess I was promised.
I just can’t reconcile the books I read with the breezy, dishy novel other people seem to have read. I know that people respond to books in all sorts of different ways, and usually that doesn’t faze me at all. But this time… I feel sort of gaslit. Did I forget how to read a book properly? Is my copy a completely different story than everyone else’s? Am I majorly projecting?
Maybe this was the wrong book to read during covid lockdown. I don’t need stories about people feeling alone right now.
Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advance reading copy of this title at no charge. All opinions are my own.